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This week, we’re looking at the use of zinc supplementation for the common cold.


As we well know, prevention is always the best cure. However, is there anything we can do once you have picked up a nasty sniffle?

The common cold is often caused by the rhinovirus, and as we know, is quite the bitch at times. As there is no proven treatment for managing this illness, our best efforts from a nutrition perspective are to reduce either the severity or duration.

Through the eyes of an athlete, reducing the time missed from training or competition through illness is always a welcomed sign.

On a whole, zinc supplementation and its impact on immune function is mixed…mainly due to the poor bioavailability of zinc and the supplemental formulations. However, zinc is an extremely useful nutrient in this case as it inhibits the replication of the virus, therefore preventing it to build and causing the illness to become worse.

In a 2014 Cochrane review by Singh and Das, they looked to see whether zinc supplementation is efficacious in reducing the frequency, severity and duration of the common cold.

Based on their analysis, they found that zinc supplementation when administered 24 hours of the onset of symptoms (in otherwise healthy individuals):

1) Was associated with a significant reduction in the duration of illness.
2) Made individuals less symptomatic after 7 days Vs placebo.
3) Reduced the incidence rate ratio (IRR), school absence and hypothetically would accelerate the return to full training.
4) Was not associated with the severity of illness.

Interestingly, the delivery method/formulation being of relatively high importance….where zinc lozenges, not as a syrup or tablet at the dose of ≥ 75 mg/day appears to be most effective when taken on the onset of illness.

The only apparent downside being the bad taste and nausea…something I’m sure we can live with if the duration of illness is reduced (imo).

Given that the average duration of the common cold is 7.4 days, where 25% of cases can last up to 2 weeks…this could be an area worth exploring if you frequently get run down and need to get back to full health asap.

Unfortunately, having a cold will still suck, but luckily, not for as long.

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